By Robert Florence on October 16th, 2010 at 5:07 pm.
Last week, a few of you suggested that I make a LIST. Yes, RPS is a site about games, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to do what all the other games sites do and make LISTS every few weeks. TEN BEST BREASTS IN GAMING! TEN GORIEST DEATHS IN GAMING! TEN MOST CREATIVELY BANKRUPT GAMES WEBSITES IN GAMING!
But, damn it, okay. I’ll make a list. A list of the five games that are perfect for introducing new people to the hobby. But I’ll be making NO MORE LISTS until I run out of ideas for the column in two weeks time.
Before we do all that, though, I want to talk about my week in gaming.
MY WEEK IN GAMING
This week, a campaign I’d been running in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition over the past 18 months came to an end. The game features player characters that have been around for a long time, leaping from the board of Warhammer Quest into the major leagues of WFRP. One of our players (Richard: A Wood Elf called Lego. A crack shot with an arrow.) is leaving to go around the world in a touring production of Black Watch, that spectacular Scottish play. So we had to bring the game to a conclusion until his return in 9 months or so. It was a brilliant final game, with Richard convinced that his character would die. There was an unforgettable conclusion, with Richard’s Elf and the Emperor Karl Franz dangling from a bridge on a snapping rope that couldn’t take all the weight, while under assault from a renegade Imperial army that had turned to Chaos. Lego, ever the selfish Elf, climbed over the Emperor, stepping on his face on the way, in an attempt to save himself. It was beautifully in character. We all loved it. A magic moment, entirely against our group’s expectations. The rope snapped on a roll of a Chaos symbol, however, and both men fell to their apparent deaths.
I’m not a GM who likes to punish players for playing their character well. Lego survived the fall, but lost a leg. The Emperor’s head smashed against the rocks below. When we do pick the game back up late next year, I’ll be looking at a Campaign that has an Empire at war, no Emperor, a one-legged Wood Elf, and three other player characters who are suspected of an involvement in the Empire’s fall. I simply can’t wait.
WFRP 3rd Edition is a fine RPG. It’s a real storytelling system, with the dice aiding GM and players alike in producing unpredictable twists and turns in the narrative. As long as you’re fine with abstracting combat in an RPG, I couldn’t recommend the game highly enough. Obviously it’s important to be a fan of the setting, which is as beautifully dark, brutal and cultist-heavy as any Warhammer nut would want.
Speaking of Warhammer… there’s this fantastic card game I’d like to talk to you about.
Warhammer: Invasion is designed by Eric Lang, the man who designed one of my favourite games of all time – Chaos In The Old World. It’s a head to head card battle game, set in the Warhammer universe, and is one of Fantasy Flight Games’ “Living Card Game” products. It doesn’t follow the CCG model of selling booster packs with random cards. With Warhammer: Invasion you know exactly what cards come with each product, so you can choose to buy only what you need. In my case, it seems I need everything. As fucking usual.
The Core Set provides you with four playable factions – The Empire, Chaos, Dwarves and Orcs. Each faction has its own Capital Board, representing its capital city. These board are divided into three areas – Quest, Kingdom and Battlefield.
To win the game, you need to burn down two of your opponent’s capital areas. Each area can take a base limit of 8 damage before it goes ablaze. Every card has a power rating, measured in hammers. You can choose to play cards into any of your three areas. Playing cards into the Quest zone allows you to power up the amount of cards you draw into your hand at the start of your turn, and lets you send units on special quests that take a few turns to resolve. Playing cards into the Kingdom zone allows you to generate more resources with each turn. These resources tokens are what you spend when you play cards. And cards played into the Battlefield can be used to assault any of your opponent’s zones. These zones can only be defended by units in that zone, so it’s always good to have a strong front line – any damage not taken by defenders is passed to the target zone. In each turn, you can also play one card face down into a zone as a “development”, to raise the area’s hit points.
That’s the game explained! It’s a beautifully simple design that takes all the emphasis off the mechanics and shifts focus to the decision-making. And there are a lot of decisions to be made. Should you fire units into your Kingdom zone, because you’re light on resources just now? Or would those units be better played into the Battlefield, to defend against that inevitable Chaos Knight attack? Or maybe you should get a unit out on a quest, play defensive for a few turns, then strike hard when the quest resolves? Oh, and would it be better to build a development in the Kingdom or the Battlefield? After all, the Kingdom is desperate for hit points – but that creature in the Battlefield will get an attack boost if you develop there. What to do? WHAT TO DO?!
I need to tell you about Kenny Swanston. Some of you might know Kenny from my old shows Consolevania and videoGaiden. He’s my nephew, but we’re not far off each other in age, and we’re more like brothers. Back in the day, we used to play a lot of Pro Evolution Soccer. Every Friday night, a takeaway curry and lots of Pro Ev. These were crazy times. Our games of Pro Evolution Soccer would be so competitive that we would scream at each other throughout every match. We’d punch each other. At the final whistle, no joke, the winning player would have to RUN AWAY. I’m not exaggerating even slightly here. The final whistle would blow and you’d drop your controller and run, thunder downstairs, lock yourself in the toilet. If you were unlucky enough to get caught, you’d get leathered. I lived for those Friday nights. They were incredible.
You should see Kenny and I playing Warhammer: Invasion. My girlfriend Joanne walked into the room during our last game and I said “things are getting a bit pro ev in here”. Roaring at each other. Laughing at each other’s shitty choices. The tension in each turn is incredible. The sense of despair when your opponent plays a fatherfucker of a creature into the Battlefield, with a Toughness of 2, is delicious. The excitement and fear involved in letting one of your areas burn in order to hold steady for a massive assault in the next turn? Brutal and beautiful. It’s the kind of game that has you pushing a card forward into attack while saying “Fuck you, Kenny”. It’s magic.
Warhammer: Invasion is easy to learn, and a delight to play. The theme is captured beautifully, with the factions all playing very differently. Kenny’s Dwarves, for example, like to hunker down and make themselves hard to kill, growing stronger with the passage of time. My Chaos boys, meanwhile, like to corrupt opponent units (it’s like tapping them, Magic fans!) and then make big old assaults BOOOM! CRASH! BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD! What also helps, theme-wise, is that the cards are beautifully illustrated. The game just looks amazing. And that’s why I own every card that currently exists for the game. That and I’m an idiot.
The game’s very well supported. Every month there is a new battle pack release, with new cards for all the factions. Oh, and there are deluxe expansions too. The first, Assault on Ulthuan, introduced the High Elves and the Dark Elves as playable factions. The second expansion, March of the Damned, came out just recently, so let’s take a closer look.
On the box, it says March of the Damned Expansion. “Exactly. March of the Damned Expansion,” my girlfriend said, looking at the ridiculous amount of game boxes in our house.
The expansion thrilled me, because it introduces Lizardmen and the undead forces of the Vampire Counts into the game. Not as playable factions, though, no. As neutral cards, that can be mixed into the other faction decks. Lizardmen can be used with Order decks (the goodies) and the undead can be used with Destruction decks (the baddies/me). That means I get to use a SKELETAL HORDE with my Chaos deck, and can send a CORPSE CART onto my Battlefield. It means, right, that I can, get this, it means that I can, wait for it, RAISE DEAD.
The expansion is great. All the expansions are, and all the battle packs are too, if you’re someone who loves the game. And I love this game. It’s smart, and exciting, and unbelievably deep. If you’re someone who loved M:TG back in the day, but got turned off by the collecting angle, pick up the base pack and see what you make of Invasion. You’ll surely love it.
Let’s end with a list.
You want to know what games are the best for introducing people to the hobby? Okay, here’s some off the top of my head. I went for stuff that is easy to learn, and easy to teach, and fun to play. You could play these games with your mum. Oh , and I’d change my mind on all these in half an hour, so let’s not fight about it.
1.Citadels – A wonderful city-building card game with a clever role-selection mechanic. Inexpensive, beautifully illustrated, and great fun. Drink Midori with this game. I wrote about it in some depth here.
2.Settlers of Catan – A great game. Simple to play, good player interaction, a fair amount of luck to ease people in gently. It has its reputation for a reason. Drink Spiced Rum with this one.
3.Zooloretto – A beautiful family game that introduces players to some of the mechanics common to the modern Eurogame. Collect animals from a truck and build a zoo, for points. Drink Ribena with this one.
4.Dixit – As much a work of art as it is a game. Crack open some good wine. I did a video about it here.
5.Zombies!!! – This might be a controversial choice. It will never be your favourite game, this one. But get some beers open and ANYBODY can play it. Wrote about this too, back here.
So there’s a list that should please some new people to the ol’ gamin’. There are better games out there, of course, but the last thing you want to do with a new player is have them sit through an hour of rules explanations. Get the fucker on the table and play.
Remember to use this to get involved in this beautiful, expensive hobby. I’ll see you at the table! (Buffet table, probably.)